Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century

By Michael G. Johnson; Tracy B. Henley | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Association, Cognition,
and Neural Networks

Herbert F. Crovitz

Duke University

Poetry is concerned only with the "beautiful show" which makes it possible to contemplate the ideal; how that show is produced is a matter of indifference. Even nature is, in the poet's eyes, but the sensible expression of the spiritual. The natural philosopher, on the other hand, tries to discover the levers, the cords, and the pulleys which work behind the scenes, and shift them. Of course the sight of the machinery spoils the beautiful show, and therefore the poet would gladly talk it out of existence, and ignoring cords and pulleys as the chimeras of a pedant's brain, he would have us believe that the scenes shift themselves, or are governed by the idea of the drama. Hermann von Helmholtz ( 1852/ 1962, p. 20)

This chapter concerns the concept of association, which has seen its share of twists and turns. For some present-day psychologists the associationist point of view continues to be, or is once again, attractive. However, for some cognitive psychologists it never was attractive, and we might agree with the sentiment that recent connectionism's "idea that the brain is a neural network motivates the revival of a largely discredited Associationist psychology" ( Fodor & Pylyshyn 1988, p. 63). Yet if asked what is happening at the free exciting frontier in psychology now, I would answer: It is the mathematical theory and the emerging technology of neural network modeling of associative memory.

Associationism is a point of view that assumes an understanding of psychological matters can be made in terms of some number of basic units and of relations among them, out of which complex matters can be built, and which allows explanation in terms of mechanism. Furthermore, an associationist "believes that behavior is automatic and for any kind of complex behavior, he relies on memory" ( Jenkins, 1974, p. 786). For an illuminating history of associationism see Anderson and Bower ( 1973, p. 9-39).

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